Get the popular Shabby Chic look for pennies on the dollar

A few simple tricks of the trade can save you lots of money.

Two tone paint and pale pastels top the list for accomplishing the look you want.
Two tone paint and pale pastels top the list for accomplishing the look you want.

Create the old and weathered look without breaking the bank

No one knows where it started really. It just sort of came out of nowhere and before we knew it the popularity of it and affinity for it was growing everyday. It was embraced by decorators giving it an even stronger leg up and eventually even the furniture manufacturers who originally decried it as a passing fad were clamoring to get their own pieces into production. I am talking about of course Shabby Chic or distressed furniture as it is often referred to.

It is an interesting phenomenon a blend of old and new, perfect and disheveled, rough and pristine doing away forever with the now outdated concept that all home furnishings had to match or at least follow a theme of some sort.

Once relegated to beach houses, lake homes or mountain cabins, it has now taken a prominent position in the poshest of the posh homes all over America, often bordering on almost too much, the more ragged, weathered, thrown together and mismatched it looks the better.

Industries have been born in it's wake, innovators like Annie Sloan and Restoration Hardware have taken the Shabby Chic ball and run with it creating little empires through the manufacture and sale of either the finished product or the materials necessary to accomplish the look and believe me their product does not come cheap. Spawning the popular joke "It costs a lot to look this bad."

The affluent as they always do, preferring not to get their hands dirty have created an instant market by being willing to pay ridiculous prices to have the product built, finished, delivered and placed in the their homes so they can show it off at the next dinner party acting as if it is just something they stumbled upon and fell in love with because it was quaint. Well at least part of that story is true anyway.

But what about the rest of us, the regular guys who read the magazines and see the style and like it but can't or won't pay $2200 for a sideboard that looks like it spent the last ten years in our grandmothers barn? What are we to do?

Answer a few questions to determine your DIY apptitude

Do you consider yourself a DIY type?

See results without voting

Don't pay three prices, get the look you want by doing it yourself. It is not as difficult as you might think!

The answer to the above question is a simple one. When you want the look but the funds simply aren't in the budget to go out and buy it, do it yourself! I know you may be thinking, oh no I can't do that. I simply am not handy. I'll screw it up and just end up wasting my money. All of those thoughts are reasonable ones, especially if you have never done anything like the is before. Remember however, there was a time in the life of the most seasoned veteran furniture re finisher that he or she had never done anything either, some of them who now make their living doing just that. Where would they be if they hadn't ever taken that first step?

Also, it is important to remember this, the foundation of the Shabby Chic look is imperfection. Often a screw up can turn into a new and exciting idea, maybe something really different that takes hold and puts you on the map as an innovator. Case in point a few years ago, I bought a piece, a small table at a local thrift store that had been painted with a latex paint over a shiny enamel. I bought it because I liked the bones of the piece but not long after getting it there I realized that it looked really bad the latex barely covering in some areas and soaked deep into the knooks and crannies in others. I made the decision to attempt to strip it down but much to my dismay all of the latex paint simply would not come off. I worked on it for the better part of the day and at best it was probably 3/4 removed. That afternoon when my girlfriend returned from work and entered the shop, the first words out of her mouth were," where did you find that it is beautiful?" Yes friends the Shabby Chic furniture phenomenon brings new meaning to the old adage "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Back to the matter at hand. There are a few key factors that can and will lead to earlier success as you try your hand at this activity. You will need to be able to do a few things right and doing so will make a world of difference.

1. Know what pieces to buy and what not to buy. As it relates to a Shabby Chic makeovers, solid pieces stand head and shoulders above pieces that are veneered or have a large concentration of pressed board as part of their construction. There are a few reasons for this. Solid wood holds up better and generally have a finish that is more deeply ingrained in the wood than other pieces.

2. Know what to look for in a finish. Shabby Chic relies heavily upon paint as a basis for creating the look. That said, finding a piece that has already been painted or partially painted can often give you a jump start on getting that piece done. Don't rule out natural wood pieces however as they can be painted fairly easily and the dark underlying base often makes a great foundation for a distressed look.

3. Don't underestimate the amount of work involved. Do it yourself Shabby Chic is doable but it does require work. On the first few pieces you choose to do in particular be sure to pick something fairly uncomplicated with straight lines and less intricate detail. Much of what you see on the market in the style is more given to the primitive style anyway and staying with simple straight lines will also help you accomplish that .

4. Know what tools you will need. As you will learn shortly, sanding and or scraping plays a huge role in accomplishing the look. So you will need a good orbital or teardrop sander. This can be purchased at any hardware or big box store for $12 to $15. A flat scraper can be bought in the $2 to $3 range. You might also want to invest in some steel wool and a good pair of work gloves. As well as a mid grade quality paint brush usually $8 to $10. It is your choice whether to spray or brush when painting is involved and either is acceptable. I do both depending on several factors such as the size of the piece and what it is I am attempting to do. Do not sell spray painting short. Some of my best looking pieces have been done with spray cans.

5. Know your limits as far as the amount of money you want to invest. To pay too much for a piece, then invest in material and time to redo it can come very close to defeating the purpose of saving money if you aren't careful. Patience is important. If you don't find the piece you are looking for on your first time out. Don't worry about it. There are pieces out there and you will find them. I have bought dressers for $10, buffets for $12 and countless chairs and tables for $2 or $3 each. You can too, it is just a matter of looking until you find want.


Here are some of our best Shabby Chic Do Overs!

This Buffet was a circa 1970 piece. It had a blond finish. We sprayed it black then sanded it heavily to remove some 75% of the finish. The purchaser loved it. Our total investment in this piece was less tha $100
This Buffet was a circa 1970 piece. It had a blond finish. We sprayed it black then sanded it heavily to remove some 75% of the finish. The purchaser loved it. Our total investment in this piece was less tha $100
We created this great corner shelf out of an old door the paint was already beginning to flake so we helped it along with our sander leaving it heavily distressed and ready for the buyer to take home. Out total cost on this peice was less that $50.
We created this great corner shelf out of an old door the paint was already beginning to flake so we helped it along with our sander leaving it heavily distressed and ready for the buyer to take home. Out total cost on this piece was less that $50.
We built this bistro table from a section of old door. It was already distressed so we finished the legs and cross braces to match then added a coat of sealer to preserve to look.. Our total cost around $80
We built this bistro table from a section of old door. It was already distressed so we finished the legs and cross braces to match then added a coat of sealer to preserve to look.. Our total cost around $80
This coffee table was a custom job for a customer built from a old lead crystal window. It is one of my favorite pieces.
This coffee table was a custom job for a customer built from an old lead crystal window. It is one of my favorite pieces.

All you need to do the job right are a few simple tools!

Any of these can be picked up inexpensively at the local hardware or big box store
Any of these can be picked up inexpensively at the local hardware or big box store

Time to get it done

With your piece purchased and your tools in hand, the only real decision left to make is how you want to do it. The options are as varied as there are people. Taste vary, color preferences vary, even furniture styles or your preference thereof vary. So how do you make the decision as to how to proceed. The simple answer is research and there is no better place to do that than the good old internet. Be search specific however if you want to get some good, even great ideas. For example. If you are doing over a dresser and you think you prefer red. Then search Red Shabby Chic dressers. You just might be surprised what your search will yield. I can't tell you how often in searching for ideas on a piece I was doing over, I have stumbled on to the exact piece that I had and was about to do.

Once you know what you want to do then the rest is really pretty simple.Simply choose the color or color scheme and paint the piece. Don't worry about the paint job being perfect. Remember you are going to knock most of it back off as soon as it dries. A quick side note be sure that it does dry properly, my recommendation is 24 hours at a minimum.

When the piece is painted and dry then your time of preference and self expression begins. Start with the top of the piece and a coarse grit sandpaper. 100 grit is a minimum for me. In slow steady motions left to right begin sanding the piece until slowly some of the finish begins to come off. Continue until the entire top has as much or a little as you prefer left or removed depending on how you look at it then move on to the next section. When the process is completed change the grit on your sandpaper to 120 or so and then lightly and I do mean very lightly go over the entire piece once more quickly to knock down or remove imperfections.

This done, wipe the piece down with a dust rag and some spray furniture polish. This is all I do. However you can purchase polyurethane spray in a can and give it a good coating to preserve the finish should you so desire. If you make the decision to do this however please allow another 24 hours drying time for a total of 48 before applying any varnish.

Congratulations you have done your first piece and hopefully saved yourself some real money. It is now time to place it in you home in a place of prominence and wait for your friends to ooh and aah the first time they see it, wondering where on earth you got the money to afford a great piece like this! Tell them is you wish if you don't then don't it can be our little secret!

Feel free to visit my facebook page for more ideas at Middle Georgia Furniture Brokers, Macon. Ga. Please leave questions or comments! We will do our best to respond! Good luck and happy Shabby Chicing!

More by this Author


1 comment

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Keep these DIY hubs coming! Very inspirational stuff.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working